International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 122–150 | Cite as

Nutritional Characteristics of Wild and Cultivated Foods for Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in Agricultural Landscapes

  • Matthew R. McLennan
  • Jörg U. Ganzhorn


Primate habitats are being transformed by human activities such as agriculture. Many wild primates include cultivated foods (crops) in their diets, calling for an improved understanding of the costs and benefits of crop feeding. We measured the macronutrient and antifeedant content of 44 wild and 21 crop foods eaten by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in a mosaic habitat at Bulindi, Uganda, to evaluate the common assertion that crops offer high nutritional returns compared to wild forage for primates. In addition, we analyzed 13 crops not eaten at Bulindi but that are consumed by chimpanzees elsewhere to assess whether nutritional aspects explain why chimpanzees in Bulindi ignored them. Our analysis of their wild plant diet (fruit, leaves, and pith) corresponds with previous chemical analyses of primate plant foods. Compared to wild food equivalents, crops eaten by the chimpanzees contained higher levels of digestible carbohydrates (mainly sugars) coupled with lower amounts of insoluble fiber and antifeedants. Cultivated fruits were relatively nutritious throughout the ripening process. Our data support the assumption that eating cultivated foods confers energetic advantages for primates, although crops in our sample were low in protein and lipids compared to some wild foods. We found little evidence that crops ignored by the chimpanzees were less nutritious than those that they did eat. Nonnutritional factors, e.g., similarity to wild foods, probably also influence crop selection. Whether cultivated habitats can support threatened but flexible primates such as chimpanzees in the long term hinges on local people’s willingness to share their landscape and resources with them.


Agroecosystems Crop foraging Cultivars Dietary flexibility Human-dominated landscapes Nutritional ecology 



We are grateful to the President’s Office, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority for permission to study the chimpanzees of Bulindi. Matthew McLennan’s fieldwork was supported by a fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. We are particularly grateful to Tom Sabiiti for assistance in the field. For help with the chemical analyses we thank Irene Tomaschewski. Mary Namaganda and Olivia Maganyi at Makerere University Herbarium, Uganda, identified the taxonomy of several plants analyzed for this study. We thank Kimberley Hockings, Noemi Spagnoletti, Giuseppe Donati, Joanna Setchell, and the reviewers for helpful comments on the draft manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest or competing financial interest.

Supplementary material

10764_2016_9940_MOESM1_ESM.docx (211 kb)
Fig. S1 (DOCX 211 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology Centre for Conservation, Environment and DevelopmentOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK
  2. 2.Zoological Institute, Animal Ecology & ConservationUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany

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